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Issue Fourteen

Crack The Spine Issue Fourteen February 5, 2012 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2012 by Crack The Spine

Cover Art “Writing Home” Anonymous

Contents Peter Lingard ……………….………..……………...……….Sexperience Kyle Sundby…………………………..………….……….…………..Buzz Suzanne Allen………...……….…….……………..….Postcard to Karen Postcard to Eric Postcard to Myself Lily Murphy…….……..………………....………….College Road Blues Peter Emmett Naughton……….…………….….…...The Bobtail Game Ian Paone………………………………...…….……...…The Green Dove Amar Benchikha……………….………………………………..The Thief

Sexperience By Peter Lingard

Kissing Christine Castaldi was terrific. When not helping each other with our homework, we’d go to in our secret glade in Bluebell Wood, clasp each other and grab each other’s’ bits under our clothing. Well, I did have a hand inside her bra for three seconds last weekend. I thought I was finally getting somewhere but then she became aloof and removed my hand. “Not yet,” she said. We were doing the usual last Tuesday when she breathlessly said, “Stop! This is no good. We have to go to the next stage.” “What do you mean?” I asked, filled with awe, excitement and dread. She may have frightened herself with her outburst. “You know,” she said, suddenly shy. Of course I knew! What red-blooded thirteen-year-old wouldn’t know? “Do you mean now?” “No, not now. You have to make preparations. Mum and Dad are going to Sydney to see a show in a couple of weeks and they’re leaving me alone for the night. We’ll do it then.” “They’re leaving you by yourself?” “Yes. We’ll have the whole house to ourselves. I feel a little guilty, like I’m taking advantage of them, but if they want to leave me behind, what do they expect?” I thought about mentioning trust but I didn’t want to talk her out of her intention. “Yeah, you’re right.” Given I had accepted her plan, I wondered if

Christine had had sex before and was giving me the two weeks to prep myself, find out what was expected of me. She had told me more than once that girls were two years ahead of boys when it came to maturity. Did that mean she was two years older than me sexually? Was she an expert? Jack Nye had gone to prison following his umpteenth conviction for breaking and entering. My mother told my father, with that special tone she used when telling spiteful tales, that Sally Nye seemed to entertain a lot of male visitors. There was no mistaking what my mother hinted happened between Mrs Nye and her multitude of men and that’s how I got my idea. I could get all the sexual experience I needed from Mrs Nye. She was a good-looking woman, still slim and with the right shape. She wore clothes that suggested she might be available to the right man. Surely, she would enjoy teaching a rank amateur like me about sex. Yeah. All I needed was a way into her house. I could hardly knock on her front door and say I’d arrived for my lessons like my younger brother did with his violin teacher. It took me a while to make a plan but I finally decided that if I suffered some sort of injury when alone in the house, I would have the excuse to go to her for help. I could cut myself. That would be easy and fairly painless. If I cut my leg whilst wearing long trousers, she would have to take them off so she could assess the extent of the wound. What a good plan! I couldn’t work out how to progress from that point but Dad was always saying one had to roll with the flow and that’s what I would do. I just had to be careful with the cut. I wanted a lot of blood for dramatic effect but the cut should not be deep enough to cause lasting damage or require a visit to the emergency room. A careful cut above my knee would do the job. Dad was at work and Mum had gone to the hairdressers, lunch with Mrs Colby and to do some shopping. Little brother was at a friend’s house for the day. I kept watch from my parents’ bedroom window where I could see the Nye house. When

Mrs Nye arrived home from the supermarket with several bags, I knew the scene was set. Should I put on my yet-to-be-worn white, y-front underpants or my lucky ones from when the Hawks won The Premiership in oh-eight? Definitely the Hawks. They’ll provide a conversation piece while we get through the medical part of the visit. I’ll wear the old jeans mum says are past their use-by-date. Down to the kitchen and get the carving knife from the cutlery drawer. Now, gently, gently. No. Make it fast and get it over with. Shit, that hurt. Not much blood. Squeeze it. That’s good. Here comes the blood, nice and red and dramatic. Make a couple of circuits of the kitchen to perfect my limp. Clean up the three of drops of blood on the floor and then hold the teacloth over the wound while I limp over to Mrs Nye’s house. “Hello, Mrs Nye. I wonder if you can help me.” I take the teacloth away from the wound. “Oh my god!” she shrieks. “It’s nothing really. I just don’t know how to stop the blood and I can’t find our first-aid box in the house.” “Come in. Come in,” she says, standing aside to allow me to pass. She’s wearing a micro-skirt and halter. Her blonde hair looks brushed and her red lips glisten. The dark make-up around her eyes is very sexy. “Straight through,” she says in a hurry. “Straight through to the kitchen where I can have a good look.” I limp down the short corridor to the bright room beyond. “I don’t think it’s too serious but I thought I’d better get an adult to look at it.” Shit! Why did I draw attention to the difference in our ages? “Sorry. I didn’t mean to say you were old. It’s just that you must have more experience in this kind of thing than me.” Good one. Play on her experience.

“How did it happen?” she asks. How did it happen? Shit! I never thought about that. How could it have happened? She gazes at me, waiting for an answer. “I was whittling a piece of wood and the knife slipped and cut me.” “Oh,” she says. Her mouth makes an oval shape and the light reflects off her lips. “What was it you were whittling?” Is she for real! “Erm, a baseball bat. The best baseball pros in the States whittle their own bats so I thought I’d give it a try.” “That’s wonderful. Which team do you play for?” A little more concern for the actual wound might be nice. “Well, I haven’t actually played a game yet. I figured I’d need my own bat if I was to be taken seriously.” “Are you delirious?” she asks with concern. “No, no. I’m fine.” Shit! She’ll be dragging me off to hospital if I’m not careful. “Personal sensibilities have to take a back seat in situations like this so let’s get those jeans off and let me see the wound.” Geronimo! I unfasten my belt, undo the top button, unzip my fly and let my jeans fall to the floor. I silently curse when I see the wound doesn’t look too bad. There was a good amount of blood on the denim but my skin is almost clean. She grabs a chair and places it behind me. “Sit down, Eric. It is Eric, isn’t it?” She’s been checking me out! “Yeah. How did you know that?”

She smiles. “I don’t know. It’s strange I should know the name of someone so young who I’ve never spoken to.” Not so young, Mrs Nye. Look at the muscles on my legs. Not so young. “Perhaps your mother told me. Yes, that must be it. We’ve bumped into each other in the high street on a couple of occasions.” My mother talks to the wife of a man who is in prison? And all those nasty things she said about Mrs Nye! “Enough of this.” You’ve got that right! Enough of this shit about me being young and you talking to my mother. “Let me get the first aid box from the linen closet.” While she’s away, I try to squeeze blood from my sliced leg. The pressure makes the skin turn white and I know I’ve erred. Thankfully, the colour returns before Mrs Nye. “All right she says. Let’s have a closer look.” She puts one knee on the tiled floor, causing her skirt to ride up her thighs and I see her pink panties. Did she flash me on purpose? Is she coming on to me? Wait. Let her make the next move. This is turning out to be easier than I thought. She places the green first-aid tin beside her. The top of her halter gapes and I see the roundness of her breasts; ogle the tanned flesh that disappears under her pink bra. Mum has a tan line at the top of her chest. Does this mean Mrs Nye sunbathes in the nude? When? Where? Saliva fills my mouth and I swallow noisily. Mrs Nye grasps my ankle with her right hand and places her left hand on my thigh, above the wound. Her soft hand is on my naked thigh; her fingernails shiny pink. I smell her perfume. “I see you’re a Hawthorn fan,” she says. She must have looked at my crotch. Are her words some kind of foreplay? “This doesn’t look so bad. No need for a run to the hospital.” Her hand slips down to my inside leg as her other hand reaches for the green tin. My penis stirs. “I’ll just put a piece of gauze on the cut and wrap it with a bandage and you’ll be fine.” My penis thickens and starts to move. No, no, don’t do this yet. Not now. This isn’t the time.

In an equilateral triangle, no, that’s not it. In an isosceles triangle...isosceles? No. Concentrate. In a right-angled triangle? That’s it. In a right-angled triangle the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. It’s not working. Concentrate! I should have worn the new underpants; they could have stopped this from happening. It’s starting to unfurl. Holy crap. I pull in my waist and sit forward a little, hoping to minimise any protrusions. Mrs Nye takes her hand from my leg and rips a bandage out of its confining wrapper. She pulls a length of it free and picks up a pair of silver scissors. My penis leaps upright, standing like a bloody great pole, stretching the Hawks colours out of shape. Mrs Nye takes the scissor blades in her other hand and smacks the top of my penis with the handle. Ow! Shit! My penis collapses like a popped party balloon. “There, that takes care of that. Don’t feel bad about it,” she says. “These things happen to boys your age.”

Peter Lingard sold ice-cream, worked as a bank clerk, a bookkeeper, and a barman. He delivered milk, served in the Royal Marines and ‘bounced’ leery customers in a London clip-joint. He went to Australia because the sun frequently shines there and he didn’t have to learn a new language.

Buzz By Kyle Sundby

We don’t hate you. Not really. In fact, we like you more than we do him. Believe it. Imagine how you’d feel if this situation occurred on a regular basis. That’s what we put up with. We just want to see how you put up with the same. If it had worked, it had a chance of being funny. Or humorous. At least amusing. You might have done more than laugh awkwardly. And you were never in danger of electrocution. Some people assume that’s where the sound comes from. But it’s just a wind-up gag. Plus, you went in for the handshake before he could crank up the tension on the tiny coil. Now there’s an uncomfortable moment for everyone here that could have been avoided by a much smaller uncomfortable moment for just you. Now you two are stuck in a mishandled clasp and you feel something strange – something metallic – in the palm of his hand. Now you must ignore what happened – better yet, what didn’t happen – and turn your attention to the rest of us looking to welcome you to the company. Maybe you could take the initiative and make yourself welcome. Whatever you do, be sure it doesn’t involve breaking the ice with some kind of joke or gag. Don’t force yourself on us like he just tried doing to you. Stay grounded. Let the buzz around the office generate naturally instead of trying to stir it up. That’s the way to make us feel good about you. That’s the way to create joy.

Kyle Sundby is going to keep this short because, damnit, we're running out of time.

Postcard to Karen from Rue Rambuteau By Suzanne Allen

Le Petit Marcel, where the waiters are charming. They would speak English with you if you were here. People shuffle past on the narrow sidewalk as I sip my champagne on ice. Piscine, they call it—a “swimming pool.” The Bacchus-sized glass sweats in the August sun. There has not been nearly enough this summer—sun or champagne—so unlike Sunday brunches at your place—the wide porch, the foliage, tall grasses and trees, your horses neighing in their corrals, the dogs roaming their creek-side territory. Mine is at my feet with the cigarette butts and breadcrumbs, his leash wrapped around the legs of the table and chairs too closely crowded for comfort. The street sweeper, dressed all in green with his green broom, has turned on the water to flush the gutters clean, but they never will be. Suddenly, my glass seems too small—the check, too expensive.

Postcard to Eric from Le Bistro du Peintre By Suzanne Allen

The nice Algerian man at the Tabac across the avenue makes a miserable cappuccino, and I didn’t want an espresso. I wanted time with you. Here, the waiter speaks only to the regulars, mostly about his pleasure with the sun. It has been a long, cool summer, and already August is nearly done. The sky is not quite cerulean, still behind the not-quite undulating clouds. A leaf lands on my shoulder. I press it between these pages and go inside to pay. The walls are paneled in burl wood, mirrors and belle époque scrolls, touches of old gold and fading murals in all the other shades of fall, except crimson, unless you count that wine stain on the ceiling. Yes, I will miss this, but I carry your dining room with me always, and I hear you have had some almostspring snow.

Postcard to Myself from the End of a Chapter with Chalk Dust on My Hands By Suzanne Allen

You liked the seasons that you had well enough but not the ones that lay ahead— encroaching cold, too far from home suddenly, rooms too small and dark, the barren trees. You notice you’ve learned a few things about conjugating the verb “to lie.” That summer love emptied itself in all the gutters, swam away, the miles of sewers and filtration dispersing it, and you were struck dumb having believed all of his words until then. “For better or worse” was not in your vocabulary but in your heart, and it made no difference in the end. It rarely does after all. You crumpled pages, crunched the numbers, wiped the slate clean, always liked chalk—temporary and non-toxic. You always know exactly how much you have left.

Suzanne Allen’s poems appear in Not a Muse, (Haven Books, 2009) Strangers in Paris (Tightrope Books, 2011) and Villanelles (Random House, 2012) and in literary journals such as Tears in the Fence, Nerve Cowboy, Upstairs at Duroc, Spot Lit Mag, Pearl, California Quarterly, and Cider Press Review—who nominated her for a Pushcart Prize. She is a co-editor of the Paris based issue.ZERO, and her chapbook, Verisimilitude, is available at Corrupt Press.

College Road Blues By Lily Murphy

Frosty morning and I am walking down College Road. I’m not cold though, I had a skin full of booze last night and a cup of whiskey an hour or so ago. So no I am not cold but I do stink and I know this because a gentleman just crossed the road to avoid harming his nostrils with my stench, one which has a mixture of booze and farts and sweat all rolled up into one ghastly odour. The night before was a good night, lots of alcohol and lots of good company to drink it with. Now it is a little after dawn and here I am walking down College Road all eerie on a crisp Friday morning. Apart from that one gentleman who crossed the road to avoid me, any sign of life on this morning comes from the broken bottles and empty cans scattered from footpath to footpath. These items of last nights excess are the only sign that there is indeed life on this road. The splatters of vomit here and there are frozen over by the morning frost while the cans and bottles beg to tell their tales of the night before when wild music and rambling talk filled the houses down college road. I was there indulging in the rambunctious conversations and demonic drinking. I was gracing my presence down College Road in those student abodes doing my best to keep up with the best alcoholics on earth: college students. They are the most educated alcoholics in the universe so therefore they are automatically qualified to be the hardest damned drinkers around. So as I trudge my way down College Road, I try trudging my way through the grit and the grime clouding my memories of the night before. I may not remember much of last night but I do know one thing of which I am certain of. I know that I partied hard in the student houses down College Road last night and I had awoken out of a drunken dream and found myself not on a couch but adjacent to a couch on a hard wood floor in some unknown sitting room in some unknown student dwelling. Drool sticking my cheek to the floor, at least I think it was drool, Christ I hope it was fucking drool! After a brief moment of trying to get my sore head together, I navigated my way out of that house but not before taking a cup of whiskey and soda water to my dried lips and roughed up throat and then out onto the road I went, bitten

by the chill of the winters morning but not giving a fuck because the whiskey had me warm on the inside and feeling fuzzy on the outside. It is some hours before the start of another days learning for the party loving college students. Those students who will press their feet to their early morning classes in the vast lecture halls while wearing big zombified heads on their bodies. They use their time in these lectures to wear off a days hangover and by the end of a learning day they are ready once again for another nights bacchanalia. I know all of this because it is what I used to do when I was a college student. Now as I make my way home all hung over and mentally lost, I take some time to sit on a low wall outside a house and whoever lives there I suspect is still asleep in bed so they wont mind a sore head taking a rest on their wall. I notice two odd shoes on my feet, one a black battered converse and that’s mine, the other is a clean fresh chequered vans and that is most defiantly not mine. As much as I long for those crazy drinking days, I fear I am not cut out for it anymore. I thought I could but I may just be wrong, thinking that I could go on reliving those days when I was a student and do so with the new youth on College Road. Thoughts that I could keep my wild college days going strong does nothing for my desires to live the carefree life that I once adored, the life I promised myself I would never leave behind. Someone is shouting at me from a top window of the house, ‘get off my fucking wall you loser, go on get out of here!‘ I take myself off said wall promptly and continue my walk home with two odd shoes and a heavy head. I think I will give up the pathetic grasp I have on my youth because all these hard nights drinking with the best damned drinkers in town, those partying loving students down College Road, it really does nothing for my mind or body or soul, all it does is leave me shook with the College Road blues.

Lily Murphy is 25 years old and comes from Cork city, Ireland. She is a B.A graduate of University College Cork and she loves nothing more than sipping Jack Daniels at the races. Sometimes she may even win a few bucks!

The Bobtail Game By Peter Emmett Naughton

I never had a traumatic childhood. This seems to be something unique for most people my age. Almost everyone I know is in therapy and even those that aren’t talk as though they’re perpetually speaking to an analyst. They go on and on about the things that happened to them when they were young and how it’s affected them as adults; every bad job, failed romance and unfulfilled wish is attributed to parental neglect or domineering control that robbed them of their adolescence and, according to them, permanently stunted their potential. Personally I’ve never had much trouble taking responsibility for my shortcomings, and I’ve got more than a few. It just seems easier than trying to pinpoint some past event that caused everything to go wrong. When I think back to being a kid, all I remember is how much simpler life was. People took care of you and told you where to go and what to do. Even then I think I appreciated how comforting that was. Nowadays I feel like I’m fumbling around in the dark half the time and hoping that no one notices. It seems strange, but I think I understood my place in the world more clearly back then. I had things figured out in a way that completely eludes me now. The only thing I never managed to unravel was Elsa. I still think about her most days, especially when the leaves start to change. We first met one fall afternoon on the playground when she was ten and I was eleven. I was hanging upside down on the jungle-gym, day dreaming about a monster movie featuring killer slugs that was going to be on TV that evening and looking forward to taco night at my house; -how anyone can hate a time in their life when there was something called ‘taco night’ every week continues to baffle meI was letting the blood rush to my head and dreaming of tortillas when a group of girls ambled up a few feet in front of me. They were ragging on their folks for not letting them date until high school and moaning about unfair curfews and the myriad parental cruelties and injustices they had all endured. The levels of suffering became more and more epic with each subsequent story and by the end you’d swear that these poor creatures had been shackled in a high tower with only the sun and the moon to keep them company as they waited for someone to rescue them, all except for Elsa. She just stood there not saying anything, only nodding and occasionally looking

at her watch to see how much was left of recess. You could tell that she didn’t want to be there; that these girls were wasting her time prattling on about their mothers and the boys that none of them were brave enough to ask out even if their parents had permitted it. Not that I was any braver. I didn’t have the nerve to speak to Elsa during recess and probably wouldn’t have at all, but she found me as I was leaving school. I was unlocking my bike from the stand and when I looked up, there she was. “Don’t you get dizzy?” she said. “Huh?” “Hanging upside down like that, doesn’t it make you dizzy?” “A little, but that’s half the fun.” “I don’t like being dizzy. Sometimes if I forget to eat breakfast my head gets all fuzzy and the room starts to shimmer. It makes my stomach hurt.” “Yeah, I guess I wouldn’t like that either. So...those girls I saw you with, are they really your friends?” I said it not knowing how or why the words had come out of my mouth. I stared down at my feet, hoping that she would just leave in a huff rather than verbally eviscerating me where I stood. Instead she just looked at me for a moment and then smiled. “Not really.” she said. “My mother just wants me to be more social. She doesn’t like me spending too much time with Bobtail.” “Who’s Bobtail?” “My friend who lives in the closet. Mommy calls him my imaginary friend, but he’s real, she just can’t see him.” “Oh.” I said and flicked my eyes back down at my feet so she didn’t see my face. “You don’t believe me.” “I....” “Don’t worry; no one believes me.” “I believe you.” I said, looking up. “I mean if you say he’s real, then I believe you.” “Do you want to meet him?”

“Sure.” “If you come over to my house sometime I’ll introduce you. Just make sure that you pretend you’re interested in piano lessons.” “What?” “My Mom doesn’t like me to have friends over when she’s not home, but if you tell her you want to sign up for piano lessons from her then it’s okay.” “Do I actually have to take piano lessons?” “No, just pretend like you want to. Later you can just tell her you changed your mind.” “I’ll try and remember that.” “I have to go now.” “Oh, alright.” I said and started to get on my bike. She had only gone a few feet when she turned around. “What’s your name?” “Mitch.” “I’m Elsa.” “Like Elsa Lanchester from Bride of Frankenstein.” “If you say so.” she said and walked away. On the ride home I kept imagining her with towering black hair and a white streak running up either side. It only made me like her more. *** We started hanging out at lunch and at recess. She liked to thumb through the science fiction books in my backpack while we ate and I’d tell her about the last part I read and how I thought the ending was going to turn out. I found out that her mother had once been a concert pianist, but had given it up after Elsa was born. She told me her father left when she was three, but that he sent her a card on her birthday every year. The other kids started to talk about us. I guess they assumed we were boyfriend and girlfriend, but it really wasn’t like that. We just enjoyed being together. There was no pressure to try and impress each other; I didn’t have to pretend to be macho

like I did around my guy friends and she didn’t have to act like a priss or a drama queen the way those girls on the playground did. It didn’t matter to us what people said or what they thought. We were an island onto ourselves and for a while everything was perfect. But it all changed after I met Bobtail. *** By the time Elsa finally asked me over I’d forgotten all about Bobtail. It wasn’t until she suggested watching a movie at her place that he finally popped up again. “I’ve got sodas in the fridge and we can make some popcorn in the microwave for the three of us.” “Three of us?” “You, me and Bobtail.” “Oh, right.” “I think you’ll really like him. He’s funny and he knows all the best spots in the house for hide and seek.” “Um, cool.” At the time I wasn’t sure quite what to think. She seemed so sincere about the whole thing and I was afraid of saying something that might upset her. We made the popcorn and grabbed a couple sodas from the fridge. When I asked her if Bobtail wanted one she told me he wasn’t thirsty. After perusing the small tape collection in her room we settled on The Goonies with a possibility of Dark Crystal if her Mom ended up working late. Chunk had gotten locked in with Sloth and was just about to offer to share his BabyRuth when I first noticed it. The closet door creaked open a few inches revealing a narrow window into the blackness beyond. I chalked it up to the wind or a faulty hinge, but something in the back of my head twitched and the skin on my neck started to prickle. Later when Mikey and his friends were running from the Fratellis I heard the door again. This time it was almost a third of the way open and as I stared at it I swore I saw a shape move somewhere in the shrouded depths. “Sorry he’s being so shy.” Elsa said without taking her eyes off the movie. “It’s okay.” I said, trying not to sound nervous.

“He’s just a little skittish around new people. The only other person I’ve introduced him to was my friend Sara and that was before we moved.” “No biggie.” I said, not all that eager myself to meet Bobtail or whatever was on the other side of the door. “Do you have any pets?” I asked, trying to sound relaxed. “Just our cat Sophie. She turned twelve this month.” As if on cue, a large gray and white tabby came bounding out of the closet and promptly curled up next to Elsa’s outstretched legs. “Silly kitty. Did you and Bobtail get in a fight again?” The cat meowed once in reply and started purring as Elsa stroked the fur between the tabby’s ears. “So he’s in there?” I said, pointing to the now open closet door. Elsa nodded. I had started to unconsciously inch towards the closet when Elsa put her hand on my arm. “It doesn’t work like that.” she said. “You have to invite him in.” “What do you mean?” “Watch.” she said and closed her eyes. She began muttering something under her breath that I couldn’t quite make out, but the cadence of it sounded like a poem or a nursery rhyme. Suddenly her head jerked back and her eyes shot open. “Are you okay?” She leaned her head forward and looked at me, but didn’t say anything. “Elsa?” She tilted her head to the side like a confused puppy and blinked at me. Slowly she reached out a hand and touched my face, lingering there as if my skin were some fascinating new substance she’d never felt before. “C’mon Elsa, stop messing around.” She shifted her hand to the top of my head, running her fingers back and forth through my hair. “Seriously, you’re starting to freak me out.”

I heard keys in the front door and a moment later a voice called up from downstairs. “Sweetie, I’m home. Are you up in your room?” I grabbed Elsa by the arms and shook her. Her head lolled back on her shoulders and then rolled forward with the same wide eyes staring into me. I could hear footsteps coming up the stairs and I started to panic not sure what I would say. I quickly pulled my sleeve up over my hand and slapped her on the cheek. She blinked twice and then looked over at the doorway just as her mother walked through it. “Hi Mom.” she said, smiling up at her as if nothing had happened. “Hi.” her mother said, looking at me with a slightly bewildered expression. “This is Mitch. My friend I told you about who wants to take piano lessons.” “Interested in learning to tinkle the old ivories are you?” “Uh, yeah.” I said. “My mother wants me to join the orchestra when I get to high school.” “Well, that’s alright to start I suppose, but eventually you should decide whether it’s something you really want to do. No point in wasting your time if it isn’t something you’re passionate about.” “Okay.” I said, sounding as if I hadn’t quite understood her. “Do you two want a snack? I picked up some nice apples at the store.” “Actually, I have to be home for dinner.” I said, grabbing my backpack up off the floor. I looked over at Elsa. “See you tomorrow at school.” I trotted down the steps two at a time and practically leaped off the porch and onto my bike. On the ride home I tried to make sense of everything. ‘Was Elsa just messing with me or had something actually taken her over? Was there really a Bobtail?’ My mind was whirling by the time I put my bike in the garage and I spent the rest of that night trying to figure out what I should do. *** Elsa wasn’t at school the next day. I was worried that something had happened to her, that she’d had another fit or something worse, but a part of me was relieved not to see her.

The problem was Bobtail. I still didn’t know what to think and I wasn’t sure how to bring it up to Elsa. The last thing I wanted to do was alienate the only real friend I had. I thought about it all day and by the end of school I had resolved to visit her at home, still not sure what I would say when I got there. I took the long route to Elsa’s house, winding my way through alleys and backstreets as I kicked at piles of leaves that exploded like beautiful cooper-gold grenades. My stomach was twisted up in knots the same way it got when I ate too close to bedtime and every step I took made me feel like turning around and running the other direction. By the time I got to her street I felt like I was going to puke, but then I saw her sitting on her front porch weaving leaves into her hair and I started smiling. “I’m the Autumn Queen.” she said, looping another strand of hair around the stem of a burnt-red leaf. “What does that make me?” I asked, still grinning. “You can be Pumpkin Jack.” “Pumpkin Jack?” “He’s a scarecrow with a jack-o-lantern head. He guards all the pumpkins from birds and squirrels so they can be sold and carved up for Halloween.” “And made into pies.” “Well of course.” she said, with a look like it should’ve been obvious. “So, are you sick? Is that why you weren’t at school?” “I felt bad this morning, but I’m mostly okay now.” “Was it from what happened yesterday?” Elsa looked at me for a long moment and then nodded. “What exactly did happen?” “Sometimes when I play with Bobtail I feel dizzy like when I forget to eat.” “Why?” “He gets inside my head and runs around in there. Usually it’s fun, almost like he’s playing hide-and-go-seek with my thoughts and memories, but sometimes he gets too excited and I start to feel icky and my stomach hurts.” “Oh.”

“You think I’m crazy.” “No, it’s not that, it’s just....” “A little weird.” “Yeah.” “Do you wanna try?” “You mean with Bobtail in my head?” She nodded. “Um, sure…I guess so….” I don’t remember much after that. When I think back there are vague flashes in my memory of going upstairs with Elsa, sitting on her bedroom floor, and her opening the closet door. My head felt big, like a balloon that kept expanding until it was going to pop or float away. My skin was tight and tingly and I remember wanting to take it off as if it were an itchy sweater that I could just pull over my head. And then there was the whispering. A voice echoing in my skull that kept saying the same thing over and over again. ‘Bobtail game, bobtail game, come and play the bobtail game. We’ll have such fun, just wait and see. I’ll be you and you’ll be me....’ *** I felt lousy the next morning, but I downplayed it to my mother so she’d let me go to school. The last thing I wanted was to be alone. The inside of my head felt like it was filled with static electricity that kept zapping me randomly throughout the day. It was even worse when I closed my eyes and the mere thought of food made me want to wretch. If this is what it felt like to play with Bobtail, then I wanted no part of it and I couldn’t understand why Elsa would either. We didn’t see each other until recess. I was on the jungle-gym again, sitting up at the top this time reading a paperback I’d found in my older brother’s room. “Hi.” Elsa said, looking up at me from underneath the bars. “Hey.”

“What ya reading?” “It’s about a tribe of killer gorillas in the jungle.” “Sounds neat.” “Yeah, it’s pretty good so far.” “Are you okay?” she said as she started to climb up the outside of the bars. “You didn’t really say much after you left yesterday.” “To be honest, I’m not really sure. Everything’s kind of a blur.” “When Bobtail came out you sorta stiffened up and your skin was really sweaty. Guess that’s how I looked too, huh?” “I didn’t think you were that sweaty.” “Um, thanks.” “What happened after that?” “You just sat there staring at me and smiling. It was this strange smile like you knew something, but wouldn’t tell me.” “Did I do anything else?” “Right before Bobtail left, you said something.” “I did?” “You said ‘I see you.’” “What do you think that meant?” “I don’t know...but I didn’t like it....” “Sorry.” “It’s okay, I know it wasn’t you.” “When he was inside my head it didn’t feel fun. It felt like I was losing control, almost like I was drifting away from myself and the farther I got the harder it was to find my way back. I don’t think either of us should let him in again.” Elsa was sitting next to me at the top of the gym and she looked out at the cloudless gray sky. “I don’t know if I can stop him. It’s happened so many times that I don’t even

really invite him in anymore, he just comes. I’m sorry, I should’ve told you I was just...scared.” “It’s okay.” I said, and squeezed her hand. “We’ll figure out what to do.” “Promise?” “I promise.” I said and we climbed off the jungle gym and walked back in from recess still holding hands. It was the last time I ever saw Elsa. *** When she wasn’t in school the next day I tried going over to her house, but no one answered the door and the lights were all out. Stories started floating around school that she had moved away, but I thought I saw her mother almost a month at the grocery store. Other rumors said that she was in the children’s ward in Bartonville Hospital. I don’t know if it’s true, but if it is, then I know who put her there. I swear I can still feel him sometimes, scrambling around inside my skull, making my brain itch and my skin tingle. In some ways I don’t think he ever entirely left me, and if never left me, then I know he never left Elsa. I wish that I could’ve helped her; that I’d kept my promise and been there for her when she needed me. More than anything though...I wish we’d never played his game…

Peter fell into fiction by writing stories to amuse his grammar-school classmates, which helped him overcome his shyness, but led to very few completed homework assignments. He has an abiding love of cheese in all its gloriously stinky forms, horror movies with a sense of humor and trashy punk and garage-rock. He was raised and currently resides in Chicago with his wife and cats. His writing has appeared in The Delinquent, Candlelight, Black Words On White Paper, Spook City and Apiary (upcoming February issue).

The Green Dove By Ian Paone

I am a slave Chained to the wall The green dove flies in front of me Tormenting with its call

The cats in the corner Counting his green mice Malicious and greedy While I’m reduced to dice

The chain grows as time slips by The dove shakes its tail beyond my grasp The chain overpowers As I take my last gasp

Ian Paone lives a Whistler and loves skiing maybe a little too much. When he's not skiing waist deep powder hes driving the drunks around at night in his cab or joins them on their drunken adventures. When he gets the chance, he reads in between the blackouts and white rooms. Crack The Spine is his first publisher.

The Thief By Amar Benchikha

The thief was having a drink in the corner of the teahouse when a group of 30somethings walked in. They sat at the other end of the room, at a table adjacent to a red curtain beyond which was a hallway leading to the restrooms. After removing their coats, they hung them on the wall nearby, so close to the curtain, in fact, that the nearest one partly covered it. They sat down, looked over the menus, ordered their drinks and engaged in a lively discussion. He waited, deftly observing them while pretending to read the paper. His experience told him that one of them would use the restroom while they all waited for their drinks to come. As expected, one of them did. When the girl returned, he waited a couple of minutes to make sure no one else would leave the table. By then the drinks had arrived and they all settled comfortably once more in conversation. The thief got up and walked casually across the room, drew open the curtain and closed it behind him, making sure to cover the jutting coat sleeve. He knew other customers might decide to use the restrooms at any moment, but he also knew the cafĂŠ well by now. The perfect time for this particular establishment was late evenings, early to mid week, when few people frequented it. Except for one table of regulars outside who did little but smoke and sip on their tea, tonight the members of this group were the only other patrons of the cafĂŠ. Hidden by the curtain, he slid a hand along the wall towards the jacket closest to him. Most men kept their wallet in their pants, he knew, but in his professional experience, in the autumn and winter seasons, about half of them used their coat instead. He felt a bulge and removed a wallet. He then reached slowly for the second

coat, careful not to make any movement or sound that would alert the group. Out of a pocket he pulled a small navy blue box. The two other jackets being out of reach, he walked over to the men's room and into a stall. He opened the box finding a modest, yet striking, diamond ring—an engagement present, he presumed. In the wallet was ninety dollars. He took out forty and pocketed them leaving the remaining fifty, the credit cards and the ID untouched. He stepped out of the stall and walked back to the curtain. The man looked through a slit to see if anyone in the cafÊ was approaching. No one was. He slid his hand inside the first coat and returned the wallet where he'd found it. Reaching into the second one he dropped the box into a pocket, the ring still in it. He then pulled the curtain open, closed it up again and headed to his seat where he finished his tea, paid the bill, and walked out. He headed down the block towards the center of town, one hand in a pocket, the other swinging easily at his side. Thirty minutes later he was downtown. He went straight to a man sitting against a post outside a McDonald. He was wearing stained jeans and a faded military top, and a worn hat lay before him on the pavement, a few coins inside. He was looking away when the man approached. "What's up, Sarge?" "Hey, lookey here, it's the Caped Avenger!" "Caped Avenger, huh? You've got a different one for me every time." "You've got to keep the mind movin', you know?" "Right, or else it'll petrify, I know," the thief said, grinning. "Exactly, it'll go hard like rock, the same brain paths used over and over again while the others wear down to nothing. Gotta watch out!"

The thief leaned his head back and let out a loud laugh. "I will, Sarge," he answered. "So how are the pickings tonight?" "Not too good. Cold weather like this sours people up. They just want to get from one heated place to another." "Bummer, man. Here's twenty fresh ones. That should sweeten the air up for you." "Wow, thanks Av, it sure does!" The thief smiled. "Will you quit it with the Avenger bit?" "Do I have to?" "No, not really. Listen, I've got a couple more stops to make." "You go, Av," he said grinning, "thanks again." "You take care, alright Sarge?" "You know it!" The thief turned around, smiling, and walked away. He went several blocks until he reached the train station. Sitting in front of the entrance was a man playing the harmonica, a coffee cup in front of him. The thief approached the blues player from behind, waited for his tune to end, then came up close, his right index finger extended, and put it against the musician's back. "Your money or your life." "Well, you better take my life 'cause I don't have any money…whitey."

The man walked around to face him. "Is that all you really see? My whiteness?" "Heck, I'm not even sure who you are. You all look the same to me." "You're harsh," said the thief. "If it wasn't for the sense that you had some green for me, I don't think I would've recognized you." "That's all you think about, huh, Fifty?" "Fifty? I haven't used a cuss word in years." "I wouldn't know, you all sound the same to me." They both burst out laughing. "So what's the skinny, Muddy?" "Oh, now you rhyming?" "You've got to keep the mind limber, you know?" "Shoot, not Sarge's crap again." "Haha! Yeah, it's rubbing off on me, I've gotta admit." "That's alright. I don't mind. Where you heading?" "I think I've got time for one more run, a place over on thirty-seventh. That reminds me. Here's twenty." "Man, you're a saint." "Ahh. You gonna be staying here much longer?"

"Nah. Getting late. Not many trains rolling in anymore." "Alright, you take care then, Muddy." He walked away and behind him the harmonica picked up again, doing a Little Walter number. He glanced up at the station clock. It was later than he thought. He wouldn't have time to hit up another joint. The thief turned a corner and walked about forty minutes. He reached a park and followed the path to an underpass. As he reached it he looked around. No one about. He veered off the path for a cluster of bushes about thirty feet in. At the bushes he gave the surroundings another quick look before brushing some of the branches away and making his way towards the center of the cluster. He leaned down and disappeared from view. When he reappeared he was holding a large duffel bag. He returned to the path and stopped below the bridge. He set the bag down on the cement, unzipped it, reached into the bag and pulled out a mat, a blanket, and an undersized pillow. He unrolled the mat and set his bed up. The man then unbuttoned his shirt and took off his pants and top, folded them carefully and placed them on the bed. He dug into his bag and slipped on some dirty jeans and an old t-shirt. He put the folded clothes in a plastic bag, which he fastened tightly and laid gently in the large one. The man then carried the duffel bag over to the bed, got under the covers, and hugged the bag close to him. Within minutes, he was asleep.

Amar lives and writes in northern Italy. He has published fiction in American Whitewater Magazine.

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Crack the Spine - Issue 14  

Literary Magazine